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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of Montana

Friday, April 18, 2014

Minnesota Woman Sentenced For BLM Mining Claim Scheme

The United States Attorney's Office announced that on April 16, 2014, KIMBERLY ONUMA, of Minneapolis, Minnesota, was sentenced to a term of 18 months' probation by U.S. District Judge Donald W. Molloy, for repeatedly making false statements to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) over a two year period.

Onuma was sentenced in connection with her January 2014, guilty plea to false writings or statements. Assistant U.S. Attorney Leif Johnson advised the court that Onuma acquired, located, and sold unpatented mining claims on federal land. The claims were recorded with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Montana, Oregon, and California. The BLM acts as a repository of ownership information about mining claims on federal land (including lands managed by other agencies like the U.S. Forest Service).

Between 2008 and 2010, Onuma filed 39 unpatented mining claims on federal land in Montana. In order to maintain the exclusive right to mine on any particular unpatented mining claim, the filer must pay an annual maintenance fee of $140. The BLM will waive that fee for small miners who own fewer than 10 claims.

In August of 2010, Onuma filed seven separate Maintenance Fee Waiver Certifications with the BLM in the Montana State Office. Onuma signed the fee waiver requests as agent for various mining companies that held the 10 or fewer listed mining claims. Each such form contained a notice of potential liability under 18 U.S.C. § 1001 for the filing of false information.

Upon review of the fee waiver requests, BLM informed Onuma's various mining companies that the fee waiver is only available to small miners with fewer than 10 claims, and that related companies and persons are not eligible. BLM requested additional information, including powers of attorney and other documents, to establish that Onuma was legitimately acting as the agent for the unrelated owners of the 39 claims.

Onuma responded on behalf of the companies stating that, aside from owning one of the companies, she was acting as agent for all of the remaining companies holding the various mining claims. To support those assertions, Onuma filed Limited Powers of Attorney (LPOA) from the various mining companies. Each such document purported to contain the notarized signature of the owner of one of the mining companies together with an attached list of mining claims (10 or fewer) that the mining company owned.

During the review process, the BLM heard from one of the purported mining company owners, Judith Scrase, who stated that she did not own the mining company or the claims listed. Further, she stated that she did not sign the power of attorney, and it was forged in her name.

BLM rejected the fee waiver requests on the ground that Onuma owned more than 10 mining claims. In some of the cases, Onuma appealed and reiterated that she did not own more than 10 claims and that she was acting as an agent for various owners who signed powers of attorney allowing her to act as agent. BLM again rejected the fee waivers on the same ground and on the additional ground that all of the claims appeared to be controlled by Onuma because she submitted all of the paperwork, she appeared as "incorporator" on all of the corporate documents for the various "unrelated" companies, and she did not include any information on the various owners who signed the LPOAs.

At the conclusion of the appeal process for the foregoing claims, Onuma filed an additional 30 claims.

The Department of Interior's Office of Inspector General conducted an investigation and found that, consistent with BLM's suspicions, several of the "owners" who signed the powers of attorney for the fee waiver requests denied any involvement in, or ownership of, the companies listed with their names.

Similar fee waiver requests were filed for mining claims in California and Oregon. Many of the same names appear on the LPOAs.

Updated January 14, 2015